EPT11 Monaco: The road to recovery with Florent Sinama Pongolle
Everyone is anonymous at a poker table. This game is a great leveller, where film actors can rub shoulders with politicians, for example, and still the best poker player is the star.
This afternoon in Monaco, in the main event of the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo®Casino EPT Grand Final, a man in possession of a winner's medal from the Uefa Champions League sat down, and barely anyone raised an eyebrow.
Indeed, two British football (soccer) fans were pointed in the direction of the man and told that he used to play for their team -- Liverpool FC -- and that he earned that medal on the most famous night in their recent history. But still the game went on without anyone really realising who it was they were playing against.
Florent Sinama Pongolle is flying pretty comfortably under the radar here in Monaco. He is sitting at the table with Dan Heimiller, Maria Ho and the newest arrival, Fedor Holz, who was recently eliminated from the Super High Roller final table. Sinama Pongolle is in Monaco as part of a long recuperation from a cruciate ligament injury, the third of his career, which he suffered two weeks after signing for Lausanne in Switzerland.
"It's part of my job," Sinama Pongolle said between hands today, shaking off the latest setback. Injuries are an occupational hazard that is even more debilitating to a footballer than the grimmest bad beat to a poker player, but they have little choice but to plough on regardless.
Sinama Pongolle said he suffered his first ligament injury on his left leg about ten years ago, but that this was the second on his right. Many players have never managed to make a full comeback, but the former France international is made of sterner stuff.
Sinama Pongolle is now 30 and shorn of the dreadlocks he wore when in Liverpool's red. He also seems to have a pretty wise head on still relatively young shoulders, the result of a career that hasn't always been that of multi-million euro contracts and glittering success.
It is probably fair to say he did not set British football alight during his five year spell on Liverpool's books. But it's very easy to forget how difficult it is to become a top-flight footballer: pretty much every young boy dreams of playing the game professionally, yet an infinitesimally small number actually manage it. Sinama Pongolle is better at his chosen discipline than more than 99.9 percent of people who ever kicked a ball.
He scored nine goals for Liverpool in his 22 appearances in all competitions, including a crucial equaliser against Olympiakos in the run to the Champions League final. After leaving, he banged them in for Recreativo Huelva in Spain, earning him a transfer to Atletico Madrid, and after spells in Zaragoza, Saint Etienne, Rostov and Chicago in Major League Soccer.
After his contract expired there, he moved to Lausanne, but the knee injury means he has not yet played in Switzerland. He said that he is expected to have recovered from this injury by September, but will be in contract limbo once again. He had surgery six weeks ago on his right knee and is now staying in Monaco as he gets better, close to his agents' apartment.
He has been posting photos from physio sessions on his Instagram account, only interrupting that flow today to show his followers a few from-the-table pictures in the Salle des Etoiles. This is the first time his travels have taken him to a major poker event and he has decided to ante up in the €10,000 Grand Final Main Event.
It's one way to stay active at least.
You can follow all the action from Monaco on PokerStars Blog: the Super High Roller is on the Super High Roller page, the Main Event is on the Main Event page and the France Poker Series event is on the FPS page.